What is Zion and Zionism?
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © July 7, 2011 (last edited March 16,2017)


To understand what a word means in a specific context we often need to consider how it is used in a given case. Words can mean different things. The word Zion (t'zion) means a few different things depending on its usage.

The Hebrew word/name Zion appears at least 153 times in the Bible. It is used for Mount Zion, the daughter of Zion, the virgin daughter of Zion, simply as Zion, etc.

Zion is sometimes used in Scripture to reference the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of biblical Israel. This ancient court held its sessions within the Jerusalem Temple and according to the rabbis this usage of the word (as well other sources) places the authority of Halachic determination (i.e. what is legal or illegal for Jews) on the rabbis. In this context Zion is referenced in passages such as:

Isaiah 2:3: "For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem."

Zion also refers to the Temple Mount (Har HaBa'yit), the trapezoid-shaped, walled-in area in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. More specifically it refers to the sacred Rock that rests there, were HaShem began the creation, where Avraham offered Isaac, etc. This sacred hill is where the Beit haMikdash or House of Holy (the sacred Temple of People Israel) once stood and will again reside during the Messianic Age. Zion is where the Ruach or Presence of HaShem dwells:

Psalms 74:2 Remember Your congregation, which You acquired from time immemorial; You redeemed the tribe of Your heritage, Mount Zion on which You dwelt.

And Zion is synonymous with the City of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), the city where David established his Kingdom, just next to the City of David:

II Samuel 5:7 And David took the stronghold of Zion; it is the city of David.

I Kings 8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the princes of the fathers' (houses) of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem; to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion

Throughout scripture "Mount Zion" is synonymous with Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple, and the Holy City it watches over:

Psalm 87:2 HaShem loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
87:3 Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of G-d.

Psalm 137:1 There we sat down by the rivers of Babylon; also, we wept when we remembered Zion.
137:2 We hung our lyres on the willows in its midst.
137:3 For there our captors demanded a song from us; and our plunderers demanded gladness, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
137:4 How shall we sing HaShem's song in a foreign land?
137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget.
137:6 If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do not prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.

There is however another very significant meaning for the word Zion:

Isaiah 51:16 And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.

So then... the Sanhedrin, the elders of Israel who sit in the authority of Moshe are collectively known as Zion.

The Beit HaMikdash or Temple where the Sanhedrin will again meet and where HaShem is worshiped is Zion.

Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, upon which the Beit haMikdash will one day again arise to the glory of HaShem is Zion.

Yerushalayim and the Holy City of David and the Temple Mount are Zion.

Eretz Israel, the Holy Land of which Yerushalayim is the eternal capital is Zion. This includes all the land HaShem gave as our eternal possession, not just the current border of the nation of Israel.

And Zion is the people of Israel, to whom Eretz Israel and Yerushalayim were given as eternal positions. This was signified by Avraham's offer of his dear son, the font of the Jewish people. On that sacred site two sacred Temples have stood and one day the third and eternal Temple will arise to the glory of HaShem. In that Holy House the Sanhedrin will again oversee the divine service of the Elect of G-d, the Jewish People of Israel under the guidance of HaMashiach -- may that day come soon and in our day!

Zion is adored by Almighty HaShem and:

Psalms 78:68, "He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved."

Psalms 87:2, "HaShem loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob."

As Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson tells us:

The Hebrew word for Zion can be translated as "indication" or "marking." What does this mean?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that the Jewish people are called T'zion by virtue of their study of Jewish texts and fulfillment of G-d's commandments. This causes them to be distinguished, or marked, for their uniqueness. As it states in Jewish law, "When a physical object has a sign, a marking, should it be lost, the sign enables it to be returned to its owners."

So too, the Jewish nation has its marking. Zion is not lost among the rest of the world. Zion always returns to HaShem.


Zionism is the philosophical and political conviction of the truth of the above points. The modern Zionist movement began among primarily non-religious Jews. This causes some people to question the movement. The fact is however that Zion belongs to all Jews, to the religious and to the non-religious. Religious Jews like Rav Kook of blessed memory even believe that these non-religious elements were essential to the rebirth of the nation and even to the coming of HaMashiach. To be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Jewish (anti-Semitic) and to stand against Zion is to place oneself in opposition to HaShem. To place oneself against HaShem is not wise (Genesis 12:3).

Zionism then is HaTikvah: The Hope of Israel and the world.


As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,

With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,

Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:

To be a free people in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol ode balevav
P'nimah -

Nefesh Yehudi homiyah

Ulfa'atey mizrach kadimah
Ayin l'tzion tzofiyah.

Ode lo avdah tikvatenu
Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim:

L'hiyot am chofshi b'artzenu -
Eretz Tzion v'Yerushalayim.

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